Ronna Weber is executive director of the National School Transportation Association.

Ronna Weber is executive director of the National School Transportation Association.

On April 23, 2015, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a notice and request for public comment on a proposal to establish a beyond compliance program.

The program aims to reward those who provide safety programs exceeding the minimum requirements. The National School Transportation Association (NSTA) submitted comments on this issue in June 2015.

The safety record of the iconic yellow school bus exists today because of the importance this industry has placed on safety. Travel by school bus is the safest form of transportation available, and the school transportation industry works hard each and every day to ensure that we are not only operating in a safe environment, but that we are promoting a culture of safety in everything we do.

We are one of the most heavily regulated industries, and we know those regulations exist for the safety of the students we transport. It is because of our commitment to safety that NSTA supports FMCSA’s efforts to recognize and reward the best practices of compliant and safe companies.

There are several voluntary safety program best practices that would be worthy of inclusion in a beyond compliance program. These best practices basically fall into two categories: behavioral and technological. Current examples in each category are listed below. A complete program will address all aspects, including monitoring, coaching and follow-up.

Examples of safety program best practices

• Programs that exceed requirements
• Complete corporate culture of safety

• On-board student tracking
• Systems to ensure students exit the bus
• On-board driver monitoring and telematics systems
• Pre-trip inspection verification systems
• Cameras on school buses

Successful programs have many components, and we strongly encourage FMCSA to utilize the specific performance metrics of preventable accidents, non-preventable accidents and Department of Transportation reportable crashes when measuring all programs. All three metrics should be normalized by mileage in order to accurately depict performance.

In addition, geographic operating environment should be a consideration, because location and, in particular, winter weather are significant factors in crash rates. Operations in rural areas are also very different from operations in urban areas. We would suggest the development of zones to account for weather and population density when factoring crash rates.

Additionally, any program that exceeds compliance should have a measurable benefit to show its success.

Finally, FMCSA must also consider a process that protects company investments, thereby encouraging the sharing of best practices.

Conversely, unsuccessful programs must also be easily recognized. If FMCSA chooses to utilize the metrics of preventable accidents, then the recognition of unsuccessful programs becomes much easier.
In addition, all such programs should be reviewed either randomly or for cause. When reviewed for cause, if a carrier is found to not actually meet the qualifications of the program, then their incentives should be removed immediately. When reviewed randomly, FMCSA should have the flexibility to determine how to proceed.

Another critical component to the success of such a program would be any incentives that FMCSA might offer to those meeting the program criteria. The following incentives are a sampling of those that could easily be implemented:

• safety rating scalable by company size;
• credit on appropriate Safety Measurement Systems scores;
• credit on Inspection Selection System scores; and
• a reduction in roadside inspection frequency.

Finally, we encourage FMCSA to create a process to ensure that these programs are actually being implemented. This is an important component, as companies should only be rewarded for the successful safety programs they actually implement.

We commend FMCSA for looking to recognize the extra measures we take every day to ensure the safety of America’s schoolchildren.